When it came to depicting the gonzo nature of influencer culture, “Spree” stars Joe Keery and Sasheer Zamata and director Eugene Kotlyarenko did a deep dive into the haves and have-nots of the internet.
“Spree,” which premiered Friday at Sundance Film Festival, follows a rideshare driver named Kurt Kunkle (Keery) who will stop at nothing to go viral.
“He’s been trying to do this influencer thing for almost a decade,” Kotlyarenko explained at Variety’s Studio at Sundance. “He finally came up with this breakthrough viral concept, and he’s just going to take it to the limit. This is Kurt’s big moment.”
Kotlyarenko calls the movie — filmed to appear as a livestream — a dark cultural satire, one that takes the good, but mostly the bad, of social media to disturbing heights.
“Influencers are kind of iconic and also caricatured versions of a normal person because they’re also living for the clout and the likes,” Kotlyarenko said. “I was like, yeah this doesn’t feel great that these are the people shaping the culture. What is the most horrific and also funniest way to make fun of them?”
For research, the cast spent hours watching internet bellwethers who are shaping culture through YouTube, Instagram and TikTok.
Those digital content creators helped “Spree” get in the mindset of those looking for the next bigger, better and more salacious story in an attempt for clicks.
“Obviously in America, we have this problem with violence and mass murder,” Kotlyarenko said. “Often times, that’s based on the need for attention.”
Keery added, “[With] the sensitive material of mass murder, this feels like the perfect synthesis of those things. It’s digestible, but has a commentary.”
But the cast noted that for every fashion blogger who boasts over 1 million followers, there are aspiring tastemakers who haven’t quite found their stride.
“We needed to explore that reality because it’s so much more common,” Kotlyarenko said. “It was just really informative and sad. This is so many people’s realities. They’re emulating things, but being really derivative in a way. I hope all the streamers watch it and validate it.”
For those worried about being triggered by the film’s critique of the dark side of the world wide web, fear not. Zamata promises the social satire infuses comedy for good measure.
“The story intrigued me because it’s very realistic,” she said. “Versions of this have already happened, and that scares me. But the way it’s presented makes me laugh a lot.”
David Arquette, who portrays Kurt’s dad in the film, joked that he found fame before the age of Instagram, when tabloids were a bigger downfall for A-list celebrities.
“Their brain computers are versions so ahead of mine,” Arquette said. “I’m dial-up. I’m barely the internet.”
Both Zamata — as a former “Saturday Night Live” cast member — and Keery — a fan favorite on “Stranger Things” — said fame has changed their personal relationship with social media.
“I feel like I got less personal just because I didn’t want to be picked apart so much,” Zamata said. “Now it’s like a promotional tool.”
Keery noticed it’s made him less spontaneous when it comes to posting.
“You still want people to like your stuff, but before you’re less conscious about the fact that there are millions of people trying to watch your stuff or pick apart whatever your doing,” Keery said. “I feel like majority of the things I want to post are dumb. But now I get cold feet every time I’m about to pull the trigger.”